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NEWS: Protests for public education in Chile, while OTPP buys up private water utilities

The Edmonton Journal reports this morning, “Dozens of high school students forced their way into Chile’s Ministry of Education on Wednesday, occupying parts of the premises for two hours before police escorted the youths out. About 50 demonstrators…entered the building by surprise, even reaching the office of Education Minister Felipe Bulnes, who was not there at the time. …Students want the national government to take over the public school system, where 90 per cent of the country’s 3.5 million students are educated. The students say the system is underfunded and deeply inequitable.”

Under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Chile experienced the partial privatization of primary and secondary schools, decentralization (schools are administered by local municipal governments), a sharp decrease in funding for universities, and a resulting sharp increase in post-secondary tuition fees. Private primary and secondary schools now receive state funding in competition with public schools, and the Chilean constitution does not include the right to a quality education.

These long-standing issues have led to more than three months of massive demonstrations in Chile demanding free education and education reform. The BBC reports, “Student groups have been protesting for weeks to press for changes to the education system, arguing the current one is under-funded and unequal.” The Inter Press Service reported last week that, “28 youngsters at secondary schools across the country, three parents, and 22 university students” are now on a hunger strike. And earlier this week, United Press International reported that, “Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has called for dialogue with student activists after protests led to the killing (by the police) of a teenager (Manuel Gutierrez Reinoso, age 16) last week (during a clash between protesters and police)…”

Notably, amidst the protests in defence of public education that have been ongoing since April, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (which administers the pensions for 178,000 public school teachers, principals and school administrators, and pays pensions to 117,000 retirees) this July increased its ownership of Chilean private water utilities Essbio and Esval from 50.83 percent and 69.4 percent respectively to 95 percent ownership.

The Council of Canadians has repeatedly said that the pension fund for public school teachers should not be invested in private water utilities. Now the pension fund has increased its ownership of private water in a context where, as reported by the BBC, “protests initially triggered by students demanding educational reform have grown into a more general movement demanding constitutional reform, improved pension provision, new labour laws and corporate tax increases to pay for education and health.”